Previous Entry Add to Memories Share Next Entry
I'm guessing there is a greater context for the Scalzi statement that has been stripped away
james_nicoll
Gynophobes still get to define how authors identify themselves

The quotation in question is
Writers posing as men, such as James Tiptree Jr. and, of course, J.K. Rowling, are allowed to come out as women once the audience has accepted them, according to John Scalzi, the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.


Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

There's no actual quotation marks in that supposed quote. If you click through to the WSJ article, Scalzi's actual statement does have them.

"Would a 12-year-old boy have picked up a book by Joanne Rowling?" asks John Scalzi, a sci-fi writer and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. "Once you have your audience, you're fine—J.K. Rowling still sold when people found out she was a woman—but it's getting the audience that's important."

I would have. I never really thought about whether the author of a book was male or female.

If the book was marketed as a "girls book" or a "boys book", that would have made a big difference. But the gender of the author? Not at all — in fact, I probably wouldn't have noticed.

I'm pretty certain that the period in the UK when anyone would not have known that J K Rowling was female would have been brief to non-existent.

No one knew anything about JK Rowling until Harry Potter became a breakout hit. From the linked article:
J.K. Rowling has famously said that her publisher, Bloomsbury, told her that she should sell the Harry Potter books under initials, not her given name, Joanne.

The more relevant quote: "It sometimes makes sense for a female author to use a pseudonym, particularly when the main characters are male, or when it's a genre with a strong appeal to men, like military science fiction, certain types of fantasy or gritty thrillers," says Penguin editor Anne Sowards, whose fantasy authors K.A. Stewart, Rob Thurman and K.J. Taylor are women.

(The article, since it's not a direct link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324355904578159453918443978.html?mod=WSJ_LifeStyle_Lifestyle_5)

Edited at 2012-12-08 09:34 pm (UTC)

Interesting. I'd like to see the data, as I've just used the ebooks on my Nook to see how my own recent collection matches.

In SF&F, I have 127 folders for books, mostly author names. 3 are collectives (1632, Closed Circle and Anthologies). The others split 33 women, 70 men and 21 not obvious.
Within this, all 33 women are female; one man is female (Robin Hobb) and the "not obvious" split 10 female, 11 male.

(The list of "not obvious" is: Kage Baker; CJ Cherryh; Ceri Clark; Erin Hunter; Kameron Hurley; PD James; RA MacAvoy; JR Rain; JK Rowling; Courtney Schafer and JG Ballard; Bradley P Beaulieu; FM Busby; CS Lewis; HP Lovecraft; LE Modesitt Jr; H Beam Piper; JRR Tolkien; SJA Turney; AE Van Vogt; HG Wells)




Edited at 2012-12-08 07:16 pm (UTC)

I would have classified Robin as "not obvious". When I first encountered her writings, I assumed that Robin Hobb was a female. It's one of those gender-neutral given names, but the two Robins I personally knew were female.

I wonder if how one sees the gender of the name Robin is determined by whether one saw Man About the House?

It could be, but I think it's more likely to be age and where raised (57, UK for me).

I shall ignore Robinette Broadhead, on the grounds that he's fictional and thus Does Not Count.

In this case, for me it's because I knew that was the new pseudonym for Megan Lindholm

In my case it's because I went through school with a male Robin. I didn't realize that women had that name until I was in junior high.

I knew of Robin, Robin Hood, and my neighbor Robin (all male) before I saw Man About the House.


rgl

From my own shelves, it,s much the same. KJ Parker is also not obvious, and has invested a lot of effort in keeping it that way.

I'd also put Robin as not obvious, and move Erin and Courtney to female and Bradley to male. I'd also put everyone using initials whose careers started after about 1980 into female.

Before I encountered Robin Hobb I had never known a female Robin. One Robyn, briefly, but to me it was a very male name up until that point.

So, I did some checking.
http://www.babynamewizard.com/voyager#prefix=robin&ms=false&exact=false

Gives its usage in the US as overwhelmingly female with a minority of male babies named so.

http://names.darkgreener.com/#robin

Gives its usage in the UK as overwhelmingly male with what looks like a smaller proportion of females named so.

So if you're British, given the only Robin you're likely to know is of the Hooded variety (buried about 10 minutes from where I'm sat, supposedly), it's a male name, in the US it's a predominantly female name.

I wonder why?

Of the first names there (leaving out the initials), Erin and Courtney are definitely female names, Kameron and Bradley definitely male. I've never seen the names Kage or Ceri anywhere else, but Ceri certainly sounds like a woman's name. I don't know whether Kage Baker is actually male or female and wouldn't be able to guess from the name. Robin is a name I've always thought of as perfectly unisex with no clue to gender.

"Kameron Hurley is an award-winning, Nebula nominated writer currently hacking out a living in marketing and advertising. She’s lived inFairbanks, Alaska; Durban, South Africa; and Chicago, but grew up in and around Washington State. Her personal and professional exploits have taken her all around the world. She spent much of her roaring 20′s traveling, pretending to learn how to box, and trying not to die spectacularly. Along the way, she justified her nomadic lifestyle by picking up degrees in history from the University of Alaska and the Universityof Kwa-Zulu Natal. Today she lives a comparatively boring life sustained by Coke Zero, Chipotle, low-carb cooking, and lots of words. She continues to work hard at not dying."

http://www.kameronhurley.com/about/


Kage Baker is (or rather was -- a very promising career cut short) female. I agree it's not obvious from the name

I'd say Erin is obviously female (never heard of a man called that -- though I will admit in my dialect Erin and Aaron sound exactly the same), Bradley obviously male, and Courtney these days skews heavily female. Oddly enough I thought for a second that Courtney Schafer specifically was male until I realized I was thinking of a guy I used to know who was actually called Courtland Shafer. Robin is closest to 50/50, though personally I've known many more women than men called that.

Kameron I'd take as most likely female, due to the spelling, but not absolutely for sure.

Courtney is definitely a not obvious for me, but maybe that's because I'm from the UK. Courtney Pine and Courtney Lawes might both be startled to discover they're obviously female according to some of the other replies. Generally when I've come across Robin as a woman's name, it has been spelt with a 'y' rather than an 'i'; the first time I came across Hobb it was clear from the context she was female, so Robins are now filed under 'not obvious'.
Ceri Jones, like Courtney Lawes, is a hefty male rugby player; it's not uncommon as a man's name in Wales, but I have also encountered women called Ceri. Kerry, similarly, would be non-obvious for me.

The only Robin I've ever known personally was male.

"Bradley" is not obvious? Have you ever known of a female with the first name Bradley?

As far as I can recall, I've never known anyone called Bradley.

As a girl, I read everything and never gave a damn about the author's gender. The boys I knew who read, read everything, but most boys didn't read as much as girls and there were many who just didn't talk about it much.

I wonder if, for boys, it may be more social pressure as opposed to what they actually enjoy? Boys are under a lot of pressure to conform to certain stereotypes and not look wimpy. Would ebooks where you can't tell what's being read make a difference?

Re Scalzi's comments: maybe you should ask him to explain.

Good on yer.

I can address part of what you say here: my experience was that a boy who read was a boy who didn't HAVE enough associates to be subjected to peer pressure.

J. K. Rolling's first novel was targeted at a very young demographic, in a country with a rich tradition of female authors who write books that appeal to young boys such as Enid Blyton and Edith Nesbit[1] (how popular was Astrid Lidgren in the UK? I remember liking her books as a young'un).
Going over popular British children authors from the first half of the 20th century it sems as though it's the male authors who use initials instead of first names - A. A. Milne, J. M. Barry, and of course J. R. R. Tolkien. I suspect in Rolling's case it was as much an attempt of making her name sound like an old-timey children's author as masking her gender.

[1]She got published as E. Nesbith, I'll give you that, but by 1997 I think it was common knowledge "E" didn't stand for "Edward".

Again, Rowling has said very specifically that she was told to use her initials so as not to alienate boys. I don't think she is misrepresenting this; other people in UK publishing have confirmed this as happening.

Still weird given how prominent female authors were in British children's literature. I wonder whether it was based on facts and sales figures or on outdated "common knowledge".

Agree that the publishers may have been, probably were, way off base in telling Rowling that. I thought you were challenging the idea that they did tell her that, though, and it seems pretty definite that that happened.

Common knowledge also thought American children would not only have no clue what a "philosopher's stone" was - they're kids, they don't know much yet - but wouldn't be able to cope with it having that name.

"I can't believe that things ever change, in a foreign country, over a period of a hundred years! Other people MUST BE WRONG!"

Perhaps the fact that it is not now the early 20th century, and that books find young readers through vastly different channels these days, might account for some differences.

When a person in publishing says that X damages sales, it's from a position of seeing multiple cases of X not living up to sales expectations. One might wish otherwise, and loudly thump that one's own anecdotes say otherwise, but that doesn't change actual sales figures.

"Multiple cases" of books with women's names on them not living up to sales expectations is really just as anecdotal as multiple examples of readers who don't care, though. If publishers are indeed deciding what doesn't sell mostly by noticing that some books with some trait haven't sold well lately, what they're producing are shrewd guesses, not scientific facts that trump everyone else's arguments.

And in fact, to an industry outsider, some publishers' "shrewd guesses" sound a lot like confirmation bias.

I strongly disagree that the "conventional wisdom" of entertainment is based on data of any kind.

The context he is responding to is:

(1) JK Rowling saying the initials were her publisher's idea so as not to lose male audience, and
(2) An editor at Penguin saying the same thing.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324355904578159453918443978.html?mod=WSJ_LifeStyle_Lifestyle_5

I always knew Andre Norton was a woman, and I read her without a second thought. Same for L'Engle, and Leguin.

And my problems with Cherryh have nothing to do with learning she was a woman.


When I was quite young, I didn't know any of Andres other than Norton. So I was probably 10 or 12 when I realized that it wasn't a typically female name.

And my problems with Cherryh have nothing to do with learning she was a woman.


*snort* Yeah.

I believe Scalzi is being descriptive, not proscriptive. Though I don't see the word 'allowed' in the actual source quote:

"Would a 12-year-old boy have picked up a book by Joanne Rowling?" asks John Scalzi, a sci-fi writer and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. "Once you have your audience, you're fine—J.K. Rowling still sold when people found out she was a woman—but it's getting the audience that's important."

Much as we like to pretend it's not true, it may still be true that perceived gender affects sales. We like to pretend cover art doesn't affect sales, and that's laughably false.

We can post all the anecdotes we want here: "I read X and Y when I was a kid regardless of gender". This is not data. Publishers have data, presumably, of some sort--it's even easier to collect in the days of credit cards. They can even do the market segmentation and testing and see if "N. K. Jemisin" tests better or worse than "Nora Jemisin" (or even "Nora Jameson", one presumes).

One hopes they pay attention to such results, and don't blindly strip gender from female names because that's how it's always been. And perhaps they *should* take a putative hit to sales (assuming it's not imaginary), just to change the status quo.

Pretending it's not true because we wish it weren't is counterproductive; let's find out if it's actually true, so that we can take the right steps to correct it.

I picked up Trek novels by dduane - under her real name at that time, right? - when I was 16.

Note that the WSJ article references (annoyingly, without enough identifying details to track it down directly) a 2005 study that reported "four out of five men said the last novel they had read was written by a man. Women were almost as likely to have read a book by a man as a woman."

Note that almost -- that survey found that a majority of everyone, men and women, reported last reading a novel by a man, but women were at least close to parity.

(And, yes, "last remembered" is a dubious thing to track, for several reasons.)

That statistic tells you precisely nothing unless you know the m/f ratio of the authors of published books. If nine out of ten books were written by men, just how ominous would your stats be? And if you break this further by genre . . .

I guess the study in question is the one described here, though the story hardly adds anything and I can't find an actual paper.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/may/29/gender.books

It's a survey of 100 academics, critics, and writers, which is not only a small sample but about as unrepresentative of the reading public as you could possibly come up with -- oversampling people who read a lot of work more than a century old and people who read stuff that's assigned to them. It's sort of interesting in that it suggests books by women might be less reviewed by male critics, but counting reviews is a far better and easier way to study that.

Note that almost -- that survey found that a majority of everyone, men and women, reported last reading a novel by a man, but women were at least close to parity.


And they may have surveyed all of fifty women -- or not; we don't even know if they made a point of having an even gender balance. So that "almost" would be something really exciting like a 24-26 split.


Publishers have more data, sure, but I don't know that there's much evidence that they base their policies or decisions on that data.

While we're piling on anecdata, I'll say that, for me at high school/middle school age, I would have been a thousand times more comfortable carrying a book with a woman's name on the cover than one with the name "Moorcock."

I didn't try the guy's work until I was in my 30's.

As the WSJ writer and I talked on the general subject for more than an hour over three separate occasions, indeed, lots of context has been trimmed away.

Which is not necessarily a complaint -- the fact that she talked to me for an hour over three separate occasions suggests she was making a good faith attempt to get a grounding on the subject (I also pointed her in the direction of some women writers to chat with, including Seanan Maguire, whom she also quotes). Speaking as a former journalist, I'm not entirely surprised she chose a short, punchy quote that is in line with the thesis of the article; she has limited newshole in the printed paper and she needs to get to the point.

Also, yes, the quote in the article is descriptive rather than proscriptive, and I was detailing the line of thinking from the publisher's point of view. As my own childhood reading was heavy on Madeleine L'Engle, Susan Cooper and Diana Wynne Jones, I didn't personally have a problem picking up books clearly written by women.

Is this phenomenon (male readers preferring male authors) tied to the book's genre, i.e. SF\Fantasy, or the target audience age, i.e. young adult, or both?

I'm asking because I remember reading a lot of children's books clearly written by women in my pre-SF period (until the age of 13 or so - favorites were Astrid Lindgren, Enid Blyton and Agatha Christi), then focusing largely on male SF authors, then a slow climb back to gender parity once I was out of my teens.

I think that the gendering of commercial children's culture, and the aversion of boys to consuming girl stuff, may actually be increasing over time, at least in the US.